Prompt: You work for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. She has no experience with higher education. In service of her boss’s priority of bringing employment opportunity to people who have been left behind in the new economy, she has asked you to come up with an education plan. In particular, she wants to know if some variation on the Clinton and Sanders free- and debt-free college proposals would help. Provide your assessment. Include at least three recommendations for changes, improvements, or substitutes.
During the Presidential Primaries, higher education funding was at the forefront of issues for debate. Senator Bernie Sanders ran much of his campaign on the idea of tuition-free public colleges. Not to be stuck in the shadows, Hillary Clinton followed by promising about the same. College is an expensive investment that is not fit for everyone. The Department of Education should stay clear of the current climate of politics and work to improve the economy and lives of Americans pursuing a career through improved job training.
The National Education Association estimates that about 70% of current workers in the labor force do not have a college degree. Furthermore, only 49% of current high school seniors will go to college. Putting the cost aside, college for many people is not worth the time. After thirteen years of going to school five days a week, people are less inclined to spend another four years working towards a degree. Although this idea seems simple, it is especially true for impoverished students who would rather work than sit in a classroom all day. The Education Department has worked to change this way of thinking by creating programs like GearUp that provide students in high poverty communities like myself with mentors that are supposed to guide students to attain at least some form of higher education. These program have been successful, but college attendance levels have plateaued in recent years.
Free college has a few unintentional side-effects that could hurt society. It is likely that making college free will not make college more attractive for most people choosing not to attend. This would cause the progressive action to turn regressive. People who would be benefiting from the free college would still be attending if it had a price tag. Also, people who choose not to attend college would be footing the huge bill for those who do go through their tax dollars. A bill that is estimated between $35 and $75 billion dollars.
Another possible consequence of making college free is segregating people by their socioeconomically statuses. Since students would presumably bear no debt after graduating, their increased income would make them much wealthier than people who do not go to college. Where someone lives and the community they are in has a large effect on whether or not students go to college. More precisely, people in poor communities would stay poor and people in wealthy communities would become richer. College is an investment with risks, and the government should not be solely taking on those risks.
Paying for College
The little-known or understood Income-Based Repayment Plan has the most potential of making college more accessible and affordable for students. The plan, which is already in place, limits loan payments to only 10% of an individuals’ income after living expenses are deducted. After 20 years of loan payments, the remaining balance is forgiven. For public service workers, the forgiveness period is lowered to ten years. Right now, less than a quarter of borrowers enroll in the plan. To improve the plan, borrowers should automatically be enrolled in it. Hillary Clinton had
automatic enrollment as an item on her agenda. Also, to ensure that taxpayers don’t get stuck with a huge bill, President Obama has proposed that public service workers should only be relieved of $57,500 after ten years of payments.
Pell grants and federal loans make college possible for low-income students who do decide that college is the path they want to take. As a recipient of both programs, I can firmly say that if this support did not exist, I would not be in college today.
Also, before students even go to college, families can begin saving through 529 Plans. 529 Plans are investment portfolios for educational expenses. Gains in the investments are untaxed, and the principle amount is insured by the federal government. These plans are ideal for middle to high class families, who are paying the most for college.
It would be un-American-like to accept that we cannot do anything about getting more people to attend college. However, we are focused on the wrong problem. As stated before, a super majority of jobs do not require a degree. Therefore, if we want to improve the economy, we should focus on preparing students for those jobs. If we focus on better vocational training instead of traditional academics, the results will be more specialized workers that fit the demands of the economy. In Germany, students who work as an apprentice receive 1/3 of the salary while completing their high school degree. This is a program that would work for the overwhelming number of Americans who would rather work than pursue higher education. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker proposed a similar plan for their state’s educational system. Students would complete a part-time apprenticeship and traditional academic training. This would produce highly skilled workers that are versatile enough to change trade according to the waves of the economy.
The changing economy and technology has caused certain industries to decrease and require less workers. For example, the declining coal industry has put many Pennsylvanians out of work. As the Department of Education, it is our responsibility to provide education for all Americans, including adults. To get the coal miners back to work, they are going to need to change jobs completely. Adult education is little looked at in America, but most people today don’t stick with the same career or job for their entire life. That is why it is necessary for us to fund new adult education programs that focus on vocational training.
Again, college is an investment with risks. Other barriers like the community students live in have a greater impact on whether a student goes to college or not than the cost of higher education. If the Education Department wants to help get the students and current workers who fell between the cracks of the economy, the department has to understand where the jobs are in: trade. Realistically, most people will end up working in a job that vocational training could have prepared them for. It is time for us to be humble, and accept that although college graduates make more on average, the education is not necessary for most jobs. The job market is overcrowded with workers who have a degree that is not necessary for their field.
Works Cited (MLA format not required)